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Nurses Improve Eating Habits With Nutritional Program

Analysis  |  By Jennifer Thew RN  
   October 09, 2018

A pilot program gives nurses the support to change their health habits, so they can better care for patients. 

Nurses are often the ones delivering health promotion education to patients. However, when it comes to their own health habits, they may not take their own advice.

A 2011 study by researchers at the University of Maryland School of Nursing found that 55% of the 2,103 female nurses surveyed were overweight or obese. And, in a recent survey of nurses at the Medical University of South Carolina, 75% of the MUSC Health nurses reported putting their own health, safety, and wellness behind that of their patients.

At MUSC, this manifested in nurses struggling with healthful eating, including eating less than the recommend daily amounts of fruits and vegetables. But a nutrition pilot project has helped the organization's 2,700 nurses markedly improve their eating habits. Over the course of 60 days, they tripled their daily consumption of fruits and vegetables

Not only does this have the potential to improve the health of the RN workforce, but the health of patients. Research has found patients find preventative recommendations from healthcare providers who engage in healthy behaviors to be more credible and motivating.

Eat Your Veggies 

Prior to the start of the program in June 2018:

  • Almost half of the MUSC Health nurses said they ate at fast food restaurants one to two times a week
  • 31% ate at fast food restaurants three to four times a week
  • The majority of nurses said they ate only two to three servings of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains per day

After the pilot:

  • 17% of MUSC Health nurses reported eating five servings of fruit and vegetables per day
  • 72% said they eat three or more servings of fruit and vegetables a day

The pilot was supported by food services and facilities management company Sodexo, a partner in the American Nurses Association's Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation™ Grand Challenge. The ANA initiative aims to improve the nation's health by supporting nurses in changing their own health habits.

As part of the nutrition pilot, fresh, seasonal, and local food items were available for MUSC Health nurses to quickly pick-up at three MUSC locations. Each was labeled with the number of servings of fruits or vegetables it contained.

Additionally, the Sodexo's dietitians and chefs created new, healthier food options based on information shared by MUSC Health nurses.  

"MUSC Health nurses' willingness to participate in the pilot and also engage in the planning phase by sharing details about their nutritional habits is the sole reason it was a success," Bonnie Clipper, DNP, RN, MA, MBA, CENP, FACHE, vice president of Innovation at ANA, says in a news release. "Pilots like this one and other innovative programs that target the nursing workforce are necessary to help create healthy nurses and – ultimately – a healthy nation."

Jennifer Thew, RN, is the senior nursing editor at HealthLeaders.

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